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click opera - Mister narrative of the decade
February 2010
 
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Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 11:24 am
Mister narrative of the decade

Didn't it go fast? We're coming up to the end of the decade. Pretty soon whatever magazines and newspapers are left standing are going to be making their master narratives of what happened in the noughties. All that'll be possible at that point will be responses of the "me too" or "I disagree" variety. So I thought I'd get my own account of the decade in early, while it's still all up for grabs. (Actually, I've already had a stab at it, back in September 2007.) Since all such attempts are going to be partial (in the incomplete sense and in the biased sense), I'm not actually calling this a master narrative. Let's call it a "mister narrative" -- one man's view.



Geopolitics
The big picture I see this decade is the decline of Western self-confidence. If the 90s witnessed plenty of "irrational exuberance" in a "New World Order" following the West's triumph over its Cold War opponents, the 00s saw feeble attempts to define Islam as a worthy opponent, and a spate of misguided wars "justified" by the "wake-up call" of 9/11. But a cave somewhere in Afghanistan isn't the Kremlin, and Bin Laden isn't Stalin. Despite a naked neo-imperialism posited on an unholy alliance between Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilisations and the right-wing appropriation of liberal ideas like human rights and democracy, the neo-cons' New American Century lasted about five years. It was rapidly replaced by a more powerful meme: the rise of the rest, and particularly India and China.



Design
Just as hemlines follow the economy, so design follows geopolitics. If the confident 90s could give us a computer that "comes in colours" (the iMac, which echoed the optimism of the 60s and was sold with a 60s soundtrack), the 00s returned us to self-effacing "I'm not really here" products embarrassed by their environmental footprint, getting the job done and playing it safe. Cars took on the colours of the road beneath, clothes were basic and functional, sold by puritan chains like Uniqlo and Gap, computers returned to black, white or grey, and the eccentricities of -- say -- digital camera design in the 90s gave way to formula and standardisation; gone were the flip screens, the weird cigarette packet shapes, the separation of audio and video; now all digicams -- just like the cars caught worldwide in Google Streetview snaps -- were basically the same bland box. Strapped by recession and hounded by eco-guilt, people didn't want to lust for consumer items, they just wanted them to last. Designers like Naoto Fukasawa made inexpressiveness into a philosophy: the "unobtrusive but indispensable" world of supernormal.

Exceptions
There were a couple of exceptions. When Apple released the iPhone I wept (and, since I was writing for Wired at the time, turned my tears of joy into an article). The iPhone (and iPod Touch, for that matter) was such a leap forward that I still feel, when I use it, that I'm in an episode of Star Trek. It was Jonathan Ive's Thomas Jerome Newton moment; its various technologies were so advanced, so neatly fused that you could no longer talk of mere incremental improvements: this was sci-fi, a tool from another planet. Google also amazed, becoming to the 00s what Microsoft had been to the 90s. There was Google mail, Google apps, the verb "to google", Google docs, Google TV (in the shape of YouTube), Google Maps, Google Earth, two Google operating systems, a Google phone, a Google motto ("Don't be evil") and a Google politics (don't rock the boat in China). When I first heard that Google mail read your mail in order to target you with ads, I was horrified. Five years later, I don't know how I lived without it. And I've never seen a single ad.



Music
It was, in some ways, the decade in which pop music died. People started expecting their music for free, the big "we-are-the-world" type audiences built up by national broadcasters and MTV in former decades fragmented into a million tiny digital taste-channels. Demographics meant that the boomers (those pigs in the pipe) upped the age profile of the average pop consumer, therefore making the medium itself feel middle-aged, and critics continued to laud the late 60s and early 70s as pop music's artistic peak. The odds of bringing out, tomorrow, the best pop album ever made and changing the game forever grew ridiculously long. The chances of there even being a record shop to sell it in, if you did, also slimmed considerably. Meanwhile, the music industry committed hara kiri by sueing individual consumers for millions (the RIAA will "win" against Tenenbaum, but lose the entire game). Popular music felt played, but also unplayed. It was everywhere, yet, culturally, nowhere. It thrived live, but the death of "the king of pop" felt to many like the death of pop itself. It's certainly the death of a certain model of anglo-american-yet-global pop, a 20th century form of cultural imperialism which won't be reproduced in the 21st century.



RIP
Other things that looked dead or dying this decade: I personally stopped going to the cinema. Why sit behind someone's head in a fleapit when you can download all you need to see and project it at home? Copyright effectively died, overtaken, de facto, by events on the internet. Magazines and newspapers ended the decade looking very unhealthy indeed, although books seemed strong. Young people got a lot less interested in cars, leading some to label Japan a post-car society. Detroit pretty much collapsed. The polar ice caps melted rapidly; climate change is a fact. Banks -- having invented what they thought were clever ways to spread risk around, and play with planet-sized sums of entirely fictional money -- looked pretty shaky. As a result of the financial crisis, some declared the thirty-year neo-liberal project to privatize, incentivize and globalize over. Nicolas Bourriaud declared postmodernism dead, replaced by something he called the Altermodern. Attacks in the British press helped to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Undead
Moral panics were very much alive, but switched to video games. Television in the UK and Japan seemed not to die, although it went thin and flat. Best TV of the decade, for this mister, anyway, was Nathan Barley, by Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris. Folk music wasn't dead; it got re-invented (by me, ha!) as Folktronica, and then as Freak Folk / Weird New America. The art world resurrected Modernism, which became the key to oblique, personal shows like Documenta 12. Although Hollywood was on the skids, the genre of documentary film saw a surprising and welcome resurgence, with docs appearing on everything from fast food to the Helvetica typeface, and winning prizes. There was also a worldwide resurgence in national film industries, which came back from near-oblivion to take, in some cases, more than 50% of local box office -- one cultural consequence, perhaps, of the trend we started with, the decline of the West and the "rise of the rest". The financial crisis strengthened the European Union, as small maverick nations like Iceland saw membership as the only way to survive. The European project was vindicated by the successful launch of a single currency and its model of peaceful conquest by economic self-interest proved vastly more effective than the anglo-saxon neo-imperialist war model. But let's not forget the rebirth of hope via Obama. Whether his lucid and enlightened interventions can reverse the master narrative of American decline is another matter. It's interesting that his current hope is that China will become a huge market for American products -- in other words, that America will become to China what China formerly was to America.



Personally
I began the decade in New York, moved to Tokyo, then moved to Berlin. I got interested in glitch and microsound, became more left-field and formalist musically, collaborated more, and found a warmer reception for my ideas in the art world than in the music media. I started blogging in 2004, and it became the hub of my activities this decade, leading to jobs with the websites of Wired, Frieze and the New York Times. I did sound a cautionary note in one Wired column, though: blogging and bulletin boards represent "the wilderness of opinion", whereas I wanted to be "in the realm of the onion". That binary represents, perhaps, my new interest in the formal properties of sound and the non-verbal caress of fine art, so incompatible with the keyboard-centric, ego-centric vision of the world presented by online bloviation. By decade's end, though, blogging was imploding, whittling itself down to wispy microblogging and phatic status updates. The question "What are you doing?" has never been answered more, or imported less. Meanwhile, about 80% of the world's population aren't on the internet. What are they doing? Carrying water, and working for the Chinese.

42CommentReplyAdd to MemoriesShare

skazat
skazat
Alex à Paris
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 10:19 am (UTC)

For a minute there, I thought I was reading a glossy fancy magazine. Speaking of narratives, that's sort of the style of your article. I'm even calling it an article. In a pool of LJ friends page posts, yours always stand out.


What am I doing up at 4:00am?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 10:42 am (UTC)

Yeah, I could've made a thousand bucks writing this for a magazine. If there were any left.


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skazat
skazat
Alex à Paris
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 10:46 am (UTC)

I was going to say something like, "This seems like a rejected piece!" or something like that.

I still get excited when new books come out. I hope that never goes away, but I'm thinkin' it will, pretty darn soon.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 10:56 am (UTC)

I think if you'd told me, back in futur-tastic 1999, that books were what would be exciting me most in ten years, I'd have tapped my head and whistled!


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skazat
skazat
Alex à Paris
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 11:31 am (UTC)

It's sort of sad to think that it's probably only because they cost more than music or movies, which are essentially, free (the irrational idea that things that cost more, give more pleasure ala Dan Ariely) . I love me my library, but I always rack up giant late fees and every time I bring back an art book that's worth something and tell them, "this needs to be restored", they take it out of circulation. Sigh.

1999 - I remember d/l-ing a cruddy shareware MP3 encoder and having a copy of "On the Floor at the Boutique" on a ZIp disk. I spent a scholarship on books and CD's. I really enjoyed seeing and making artsy websites.

I don't think things like the Kindle have very far to go where a risk/benefit analysis will sway me to get one, but it will be a strange world indeed to not have specifically lascivious books strewn about the bedroom in exactly the right place. Eh, it's not like I actually ask girls up to see my etchings or anything.

So, maybe books are exciting. I guess they're more exciting than trying to have a conversation about a book, but realizing the person you're talking to has never seen the book, but had only seen the film adaptation.

Call me a curmudgeon, but iPhones have killed any sort of intense social gathering in loud, dark places. When is that point where the world you know, became the world that was and the world that is, make no sense? I'm only twenty eight and it already seems that way. This feeling gets worse, doesn't it?




Edited at 2009-07-29 11:31 am (UTC)


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 01:05 pm (UTC)

Aren't you really only excited by books now because you're finally writing them?


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niten
niten
Wandering Tom
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 11:16 am (UTC)

Thanks for the retrospective Momus, I had forgotten to look up and realise that we're almost at the end of the noughties.


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knightabraxas
knightabraxas
knightabraxas
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 12:31 pm (UTC)

"And I've never seen a single ad."

i know yo only have one eye, but surely you can't be blind?! gmail is saturated with adverts on the sidebar when you open an email. i get adverts in english, hindi, icelandic, japanese, korean, etc, because of the variety of mail i get...

i even get adverts based on book searches i've made, weeks ago. you MUST have not been paying attention. it's the only logical conclusion i can come to. i hate to be negative that way, but that blew my mind a bit. *reads the rest of your entry*


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 12:48 pm (UTC)

If you use gmail's pop3 service in conjunction with Apple's Mail application you never see an ad. Period.


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knightabraxas
knightabraxas
knightabraxas
Thu, Jul. 30th, 2009 01:42 am (UTC)

ah well, i guess that sort of counts as using it... i think it's different than using the actual website, which is where you'd get the ads, not in the actual email.


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mrobot
mrobot
Ben
Fri, Jul. 31st, 2009 12:18 am (UTC)

also if you're not using AdBlock Plus you don't know what you're missing (or rather, you know all too well!)


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lazy_leoboiko
lazy_leoboiko
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 01:42 pm (UTC)

The text-only ads are pretty unobtrusive. I think it’s entirely possible for someone to never notice they exist, especially if you have trained your internal ad-blocker on the heavier advertising of the internets. I know these adverts either are a waste of money on me, or are working their magic subconsciously, because I never consciously notice them.


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knightabraxas
knightabraxas
knightabraxas
Thu, Jul. 30th, 2009 01:43 am (UTC)

ah but the subconcious aspect is the whole point of advertising. your concious mind doesnt pick things up, but your subconcious mind does, and it understand a lot more about the rhythm, color, and patern of things being advertised.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 12:40 pm (UTC)

"What are you doing?"

Sad to go to a concert or exibition and be surrounded by people busy talking photos with their phones or updating Facebook/Twitter profiles.


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lazy_leoboiko
lazy_leoboiko
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 01:43 pm (UTC)

You got a point here: Twitter as an attempt to magically capture, preserve, and claim ownership of moments in time, much like non-artistic photography.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 02:19 pm (UTC)
great article

I'd add to art, the change of the status of street art


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kikiko_haru
kikiko_haru
kikiko_haru
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 02:51 pm (UTC)

Hey, allow myself to introduce...myself :D--hi, call me Kiki. I found your website from the LJ spotlight and so far, I've been enjoying reading your blog and I look forward to reading more. Though I might not always speak up, you always inspire 'thinking outside the box' for me.




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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 03:17 pm (UTC)

There's no such thing as years and decades.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 03:45 pm (UTC)

There's no such thing as your brain.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 05:19 pm (UTC)
Congratulations, I almost disagree with everything said

From the 'hub' refusal to support Iranian muslims fight Islamofascism, to being present during 9-11 but apparently not seeing a thing! From the chav-like belief in Robin Hood thief bays giving the artist no choice, to cheering for Apple - a company who went from design magpies to the digital McDonalds in about three years. I'm sure people wept when they gave us the Big Mac! From getting 'left field' (patching a different sound into pop vaudeville setting on Pro Tools?) to the 'stay-at-home journalist' approach. More psychogeography, less hands-on in real life. That's what the world needs!


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loveishappiness
loveishappiness
O.H.
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 06:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Congratulations, I almost disagree with everything said

More psychogeography, less hands-on in real life. That's what the world needs!

The world needs a buzz-word from the 90's?


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 06:43 pm (UTC)

I can’t believe the pessimism of your account of the last decade! You obviously know about exciting, innovative design and cultural trends, you are enthusiastic about making music and performance art yourself, and your blog is read by thousands and has brought you work as a writer. How can you conclude that design has become self-effacing, pop music has died and blogging is imploding?! Why so negative?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 07:26 pm (UTC)

Because when things are over, you must admit it and move on. Birth and death, creation and destruction, degeneration and regeneration; you can't have one without the other.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jul. 30th, 2009 12:23 am (UTC)

People seem very resistant to theorizing about possible manifestations of 'creative destruction'--I think the reactions to your homelessness entry attest to this, in a sense.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 07:59 pm (UTC)

A rather brilliant overview mistermomus. If I had read that piece in a glossy magazine (and dammit! I should have) I would have dog eared the page and passed it around to friends.



"Something of the unreal is necessary to fecundate the real."

--Wallace Stevens


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 08:15 pm (UTC)

What's your take on Tiny Masters of Today momus?



I read a blurb in some magazine where Bowie was asked about his favorite new bands. They were on the top of his list.


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 08:16 pm (UTC)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 10:17 pm (UTC)

What's your take on Tiny Masters of Today momus?

What can I say? I wish them well, but these songs left me with no desire to hear them again, and even while they were playing I was bored with their formal vocabulary. Then again, with an Echo Nest remix, who knows, they might have something original enough to give the medium a few more years of life. Then all those closing record stores will re-open again, like a film thrown into reverse.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009 11:31 pm (UTC)

I find them embarrassing, I'm embarrassed for Bowie if he did indeed said he liked them. Its like P factor instead of X. Music really is in a terrible state at the moment.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jul. 30th, 2009 11:12 am (UTC)

For the record, the Bowie quote about them was: "Like Suicide crashing a Shaggs rehearsal."

I prefer his line about DEVO, thirty years ago: "Like three Edgar Froesses and one Brian Eno in a band together."


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Aug. 3rd, 2009 05:23 pm (UTC)

What is to be embarrassed about? They seem to be part of the proud tradition of barely competent amateurs having a bash at it. It is fun and kind of kooky and may very well turn into something really great down the line! Music may be in a terrible state but not because of these kids.


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robinsonner
robinsonner
the maven
Thu, Jul. 30th, 2009 10:40 pm (UTC)

I haven't been listening to much for a few years now apart from some rare early 80s electropop, my own audiomuch soundscapes and film incidental music. Classical music of course.

One band that have snared me are Edinburgh artfolk soundscapers Found. More songs about composition and writing songs as I like to refer to them.

Yet again there's a whole Edinburgh scene hype going on but they are the only thing that moves me. A lot of what they do is not original but it IS well done and for me, like with Grizzly Bear's Yellow House, it has a strange haunting vibe that beats all pretender "hauntologists",

So I look forward in the next decade to the return of THE VIBE!


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robinsonner
robinsonner
the maven
Thu, Jul. 30th, 2009 10:47 pm (UTC)

http://found.bandcamp.com/album/this-mess-we-keep-reshaping


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milky_eyes
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
Thu, Jul. 30th, 2009 12:27 am (UTC)
so much death...

yeah. Really really good article.
I was going over something w a friend the other day...
'Who's doing anything exciting these days?'
She asked me who inspired me...
I was naming film makers, music, etc.. and then realized, they are all from the past. No one seems to be emerging or currently making a splash. And I dont know if you (anyone) would agree but, Obama seems to be the only name worth mentioning these days (as far as standing out).
I think timing (or pacing, in general a faster paced life), and distribution has a big role in this... but it is a truly odd time.
everything has become 'meta' losing or transforming to 'in spirit' only.
'street art' someone mentioned. I agree but... jeez.. that took like 2 minutes in the lime light to get played out....
I'm not bored but... where is my leader?
oh...
Sasha Grey!
http://www.pornhub.com/view_video.php?viewkey=1bc92dd5feb64582776a

we do have hope.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jul. 30th, 2009 01:35 am (UTC)
Re: so much death...

We are so swamped in instant gratification, (thats almost the byline of the internet) that it seems many people become like children; if they arent constantly gratified then there must be something wrong...

"No one seems to be emerging or currently making a splash."

you're kidding right?


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milky_eyes
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
Thu, Jul. 30th, 2009 01:40 am (UTC)
Re: so much death...

ah, I wasnt.
I just havent found that 'punch' of excitment from anyone, or anything... for the last many years.

Yes theres interesting treads... but nothing, I feel is drawing me in, in a big way.

I'm very open to it just being my experience... but, it feel like its a current tread.
things ebb and flow...


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knightabraxas
knightabraxas
knightabraxas
Thu, Jul. 30th, 2009 02:02 am (UTC)

"The polar ice caps melted rapidly; climate change is a fact."

i just have to say something.

did you know that it's only a couple hundred scientists, who are very very very well paid by the company they work for, whom peddle that propaganda?

yes, there was a warming period and the icecaps WERE melting, but they forgot to tell you some very key facts on the news.

they have completely stopped and did around the time "inconveniant truth" came out. and? they also didnt tell you that the polar ice caps on MARS and a few MOONS OF JUPITER were melting as well at the same time. weird huh?

what did the TENS OF THOUSANDS of scientists (who signed a petition saying they didnt agree global warming/climate change was man made) say it was because of? oh. the sun. it got hotter! why? there was a period of time where there were no sunspots, so that means that it was blazing hot.

and now, surpisingly enough, there are more sunspots than there were, and now theres been a trend of global cooling.

i could go on forever but heres one key fact i'll leave with:

all the science they use to explain climate change/global warming is ABSOLUTE science fiction. scientists are fired daily for speaking out against it, for telling the truth.

man-made climate change is fear-mongering propaganda. it's a cycle of the sun.


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knightabraxas
knightabraxas
knightabraxas
Thu, Jul. 30th, 2009 02:06 am (UTC)

AH AND THIS MAKES ME MAD! almost all the most "well respected climate scientist" or whatever the call them DON'T EVEN SPECIALIZE IN THE FIELDS REQUIRED FOR THEM TO EVEN KNOW WHAT THE EFF THEYRE TALKING ABOUT!

more proof they have know idea about what theyre talking about.

i'm sorry i'm being so dogmatic, but i will never let someone go on believing that trash whenever it's brought up! don't be a wise user of products and respect the earth just because it's going through turmoil, DO IT BECAUSE IT'S THE RIGHT THING TO DO. WE LIVE HERE. it's like trying to get your girl/boy back by saying sorry after you treated them like shit. you should have treated them well the whole time!


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milky_eyes
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
Thu, Jul. 30th, 2009 03:24 am (UTC)

you must be amazing in bed.


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knightabraxas
knightabraxas
knightabraxas
Thu, Jul. 30th, 2009 12:31 pm (UTC)

very intelligent and relavent.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jul. 30th, 2009 03:47 am (UTC)

Are you a Birther, too?


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jul. 31st, 2009 01:20 pm (UTC)
what ARE they doing?

"Meanwhile, about 80% of the world's population aren't on the internet. What are they doing? Carrying water, and working for the Chinese."


This part really got me thinking. I mean sure alot can be written about all the changes in the tech world, and the economy and art and fashion, and those changes are very real, but only to 'us' . It is just really crazy to think of the people off the internet, as you say, carrying water, working for the chinese. What else are they doing?
I really want to find out somehow, but since I can't follow them on twitter, I probably won't.
Where isn't the internet? Where isn't it the most?


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